Lessons learned in sports

Through multiple internship opportunities, Eli Santelman '25, has gained valuable experience during his time at Bethel. Initially following his love of sports and marketing, he interned for the St. Paul Saints, Minnesota Vikings, and Minnesota Timberwolves. He’s now taking what he learned and his marketing skills toward a career in corporate marketing.

By Aiden Penner '27, student writer

May 02, 2024 | 10:30 p.m.

Eli Santelman '25

Eli Santelman '25, an organizational communications major, spent the fall of his junior year working in guest services for the Minnesota Vikings, where he won the internship MVP award.

In the fall of his sophomore year, a lightbulb went off for Eli Santelman ’25. During a meeting with his advisor, Professor of Media Communication Ripley Smith, Santelman learned about interning and working for sports organizations. Santelman realized sports was exactly the kind of work he wanted to do. Soon after, Santelman applied to 120 sports internships. He even went so far as to apply to several out of Minnesota just for the opportunity to get connected. “I was willing to move for the summer to follow my dream of working in sports, and I was willing to do anything to get my dream of working in sports,” Santelman says.

The application spree worked. Since, Santelman, an organizational communication major, has interned with three organizations. He’s worked for the minor league baseball’s Saint Paul Saints, the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, and NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves.

Santelman’s passion for sports has always been there. He grew up playing T-ball and running cross country in middle school. And he grew up around marketing. His mom, Kristi Piehl ’97, owns Media Minefield, a successful public relations agency based in Minnetonka. So it was natural for Santelman to blend his love of sports and his experience around a high-level communication company into a potential career.
Eli Santelman '25

Eli Santelman's '25 parents came to visit him at his internship in premium seating with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Eli Santelman '25

Eli Santelman '25 started his internship journey with the Saint Paul Saints in promotions during the summer after his sophomore year.

His job with the Saints was the first he got after his application spree, and he spent the summer after his sophomore year at CHS Field recruiting fans to participate in mid-inning mini-games. That same summer, Santelman worked in guest services with the Vikings selling merchandise, ushering fans, and giving directions. Santelman is now working with the Timberwolves this season. He sets up events at clubs and checks wristbands, and he even once walked Vikings star wide receiver Justin Jefferson to his seat. And Santelman is finding success. He was named the MVP of all the Vikings interns, and he received his own customized jersey and a plaque along with the chance to meet the franchise’s ownership group. “That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be on the field and just see your hard work recognized,” Santelman says, “Yeah, that meant a lot.”

Each of these internships provided important learning opportunities for Santelman. He learned valuable lessons in teamwork with the Saints, a strong work ethic with the Vikings, and he built relationships with club members at Wolves games. Despite seemingly achieving his dream of working in and being a part of a sports organization, Santelman realized the career wasn’t the right fit for now. During his internships, he often started work at 3:30 p.m. and it lasted until 10 or 11 p.m., but Santelman felt the timing and hours were unsustainable. While his passion for sports remains, Santelman is adjusting his goals after the lessons he learned in sports marketing. He recently began a full-time position as a brand and marketing intern at NorthRock Partners, a financial advisement firm in Minneapolis. Santelman still hopes sports can be incorporated into his evolving goals, as he starts pursuing his career before graduation. His dream job is still becoming the president of a professional sports team, and a job in marketing for a wealth management firm could connect him to sports since many professional athletes enlist such firms. “These internships have made me think more about what I want to do in the future and helped me realize what I am worth and what I can do with my education from Bethel,” Santelman says.

Bethel has proven to be an ideal place for Santelman to go to college. As he’s pursued his interest in sports and marketing, Bethel’s location—about 20 minutes from Minneapolis and St. Paul—placed him close to the state’s professional sports teams. And thanks to Bethel’s size, Santelman has found numerous opportunities to get involved on campus. He’s participated in BethelBiz, a program that pairs business and communication students with alumni mentors in their respective fields. Santelman also sings in the Bethel Choir and is currently the choir’s student president. As he’s balanced his internship and his involvement across campus, he’s been thankful to work with flexible professors who care about their students. When he’s had to miss class or rehearsal to work at a Timberwolves game, his professors and conductors have been accommodating, allowing him to make up whatever he missed. This has helped Santelman maintain strong grades despite his many commitments. “The comm department as a whole has been very understanding,” Santelman says. “That's something that I appreciate about a small school vibe.

“These internships have made me think more about what I want to do in the future and helped me realize what I am worth and what I can do with my education from Bethel.”

— Eli Santelman '25

From simple encouragement to presenting new opportunities, Bethel’s Department of Communication Studies is committed to seeing its students, including Santelman, succeed. As Santelman’s advisor, Smith has had a profound impact on Santelman. Smith has kept Santelman grounded as well, and the energy Smith displays when asking about Santelman’s internships has helped keep Santelman going. Their relationship has become a friendship at this point, which allows Santelman to help younger students. Whenever a job or internship is posted from a place where Santelman is working, he sends it to Smith to send to the entire communications department. 

In the communication studies department, Santelman has developed modern skills that companies are seeking as they shift toward marketing through various social media channels. “What our department prepares students for is how to make content for those channels, and how to use those channels to promote a brand, and that's exactly what Eli wanted to be in,” Smith says. Smith emphasized Santelman’s strength in both using and reading nonverbal language, a strength he’s built through communications classes. Santelman says his classes have been important, not just because of their content, but because of the practical skills he gained—how to market himself, how to develop relationships, and how to communicate well.

Eli Santelman '25

After winning the Vikings' intern MVP, Eli Santelman '25 met the team's ownership group.

And Smith sees Santelman as someone eager to pursue opportunities to learn and get involved. Smith told a story of sending a routine email to communication majors about upcoming opportunities and internships. The email included an event at a Timberwolves game featuring a panel of professionals in communication and sports management across several Minnesota franchises. Santelman responded to Smith’s email with three simple words: Already signed up. 

Santelman’s experience at Bethel has done more than prepare him for his career. He’s found a loving community of friends, a more personal faith, and an understanding of action-based faith. He has been able to put Christianity into practice throughout his experiences. By interacting with so many people, Santelman is able to show the love of Jesus, which he centers himself around, to new people every day. “Once [fans] get to the game, I’m able to do something. I can get them a hat, I can get them a shirt, and I can positively affect them through the love of Christ,” says Santelman.

While his specific career goal has changed, his passion for sports remains and he’s pleased he’s been able to pursue opportunities, learn lessons, and adjust his career goals while still at Bethel. “Working in sports, I highly recommend. If there was a time to do it, it would be college,” says Santelman.

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